Watch your step – the Government is launching a mobile tracking app to stop coronavirus outbreaks

Watch your step – the Government is launching a mobile tracking app to stop coronavirus outbreaks

Yep, 1984, here we come. No, this isn’t a recently discovered George Orwell novel – The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that within weeks, Australians will be asked by the Federal Government to sign up for a mobile app to help stop the spread of coronavirus. It will allow us to register if we have contracted the virus and, in turn, notify app users if they come into contact with someone who has been infected. All by tracking our movements.

As reported by The Sydney Morning Herald, the Federal Government will ask Australians to opt in to the project, as a national effort to stop the spread. The app will not be mandatory, however Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expecting (hoping) at least 40 percent of Australians will sign up to make the project as powerful as possible. Basically, the app will allow users to register if they have contracted the virus, which could notify health authorities. Then, using location tracking, the app can alert any users that have been in contact with or close to the infected user, prompting them to also get tested. There is a definite question of privacy, as with any movement-tracking application, which the government expects debate on. Given the circumstances, however, and the wide-spread opportunity to save lives, it’s hoping that a large portion of the community will download it.

The app has been worked on for several weeks, based on a similar app launched by the Singapore Government called TraceTogether. TraceTogether works by exchanging Bluetooth signals with other devices also running the app, then sends that information to authorities. The Guardian notes that Singapore has reported a 20-percent take-up of the app so far and that it has been credited with the initial limiting of the coronavirus spread on the island. In a New Zealand parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy stated that the Australian Government was “very keen to use it and use it perhaps even more extensively than Singapore”. He also noted that a conversation needed to be had with the community about the acceptability of it – and the government is anticipating objections from privacy advocates about the degree of information being captured and stored. The Australian version of the app is expected to be very similar to Singapore’s scheme, which does not collect GPS data or a person’s location. It also tells users that the only stored data is the person’s mobile phone number and a random identification number – both stored on a secure server. In other words, the information will not be made public or distributed to a third party.

Privacy aside, the app can potentially be a very successful and much more efficient way of tracking and stopping the spread. Both the Prime Minister and Health Minster Greg Hunt have warned that social-distancing measures will not be eased until we have greater testing facilities and surveillance to track the spread – so this is clearly part of the plan towards that.

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